Marcia Widenor has been working as a full time artist since the 1980s, focusing her practice around handmade paper constructions and experiential installations. While she has lived and worked in Sea Cliff on New York’s Long Island for decades, her upbringing in the Midwest continuously influences her work. Cloth collages evoke small towns in Illinois and Ohio, knitted trees of handmade paper pay homage to the great Elm trees that once lined her childhood street, and themes of safety and refuge recur throughout her portfolio.
Widenor departed the Midwest as a young woman to study art history at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, ultimately marrying and settling in Sea Cliff where she would raise her family. As her children grew up and left home, she went back to school to earn a degree in social work, which she put to use working with children in hospitals. Widenor had been making art casually since childhood, but after retiring from her social work career in the ’80s, put her efforts into becoming a full time artist. She studied under important Long Island artists to progress her technical knowledge, and went on to produce an intricate body of work that communicates tranquility, sanctuary, community, and a respect for nature. Through her work, Widenor invites viewers to exhale and let their guard down, encouraging a childlike vulnerability by creating welcoming, safe spaces.
Widenor has been the subject of multiple solo exhibitions in the United States and exhibited internationally in France, South Korea, and Iceland. She has likewise been featured in numerous group shows, many of which took place on Long Island alongside fellow local artists. Collaboration with the Long Island arts community, particularly in regards to handmade paper, became an influential component of Widenor’s practice, as she frequently exhibited with other artists, curators, and institutions on multiple occasions. She has been commissioned to create stage designs for theatrical dance performances at institutions that include Stony Brook University, and invited to curate nearly a dozen exhibitions at spaces like the Hillwood Art Museum in Brookville, NY, and Gallery North in Setauket, NY. Her work is included in the collections of the Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, ME; American Paper Company, Pound Ridge, NJ; Queensborough Community College Museum, Bayside, NY; Islip Museum of Art, East Islip, NY; Clinton White House, Washington, D.C.; Godrej and Boyce, Bombay, India; and more.
“In their simplest form, a length of linen cloth from a Pharaoh’s tomb, the linen bed sheets of my great grandmother, a sheet of tough translucent flax paper made in a New York City loft and a curtain of hand spun flax string are all related. They come directly from organic materials, they have their own wonderful colorless color, and they bear the marks of the hand that made them.
For me, these materials have shaped the slow emergence of a body of work that has moved from wall sculpture to free hanging units and finally to installation. The forms are born from the structure and texture of these materials. The picture formed in the mind’s eye gradually becomes a place, an enterable sculpture, a tent, a shelter, a hallow tree or cupboard.
The installations emerge from childhood memories, from the experience of working with seriously ill children in hospitals and from a yearning for safety and calm. The world is not safe or calm anymore.”
– Marcia Widenor
Press with Excerpts
“VIx ART,” LONG ISLAND PULSE, July/August 2016
There’s something wonderfully wholesome about knitting and works with textiles. But Marcia Widenor takes the medium to much higher levels. She’s trying to create a sense of quiet as an antidote to the harshness in the world. Widenor’s life as an artist began by studying with Don Stewart, a printmaker for Jasper Johns, to create ghost prints like her “Sails” series. The works are visually delicate, the colors are so wispy and light, they’re virtually floating on their planes. But to call them fragile would be a mistake. They are confident and own their place. The stylistic signature she developed with the prints carried forward with her as she advanced her techniques, particularly in tactile crafts. Widenor has taken courses in printmaking, carpentry, welding and papermaking to broaden the available medium from which she can make various “homes” or moments of reprieve.
Helen A. Harrison, NEW YORK TIMES, January 22, 2006
Ms. Widenor’s “Marking Space” is also a group of hangings, but her elements are linear rather than flat. She has wrapped wood dowels with linen thread and suspended them from the ceiling, so the viewers may walk around and into the area they define. To me, the result is a kind of spatial drawing using an infinitely variable configuration of marks. It also has a sinister overtone, suggesting a dark rain, burdened with soot, streaking downward.
Jane Ingram Allen, SCULPTURE MAGAZINE, November, 1999
With her soft, fibrous nests, Widenor seems to adopt the same attitude as a bird in gathering materials-whatever is about that looks right and will give structure, a soft texture, or a bit of color. Things look old, well-used, and worn. Colors are mostly muted neutral beiges and browns with occasional bits of shiny plastic or spots of unexpected bright color. Widenor has used strips of fabrics culled from her grandmother’s old garments and cut up plastic bags, as well as found scraps of packaging materials, weathered wooden branches, and other debris to construct some of the fibrous nests. Many nests have one egg nestled inside, carefully handcrafted by the artist from paper, plaster, and other materials. Widenor seems to cherish the materials, manipulating them skillfully to bring out their inherent beauty.
Helen A. Harrison, NEW YORK TIMES, April 16, 1995
Marcia Widenor’s installation suggests a meditational environment in which a ceremony might be performed, although the nature of that ceremony is not specified.
Margaret Moorman, NEWSDAY, April 8, 1994
The poetic nature of paper – its ephemeral yet enduring quality – is Marcia Widenor’s province. Widenor’s sculptures, which employ handmade flax paper, bits of string, handmade wooden rectangles suspended by fishing line, and a stick or two, are materially delicate but strongly designed. Their titles, such as “Cupboard for March Winds”, may seem airy, but Widenor’s strict geometry of form gives them much dignity.
Helen A. Harrison, NEW YORK TIMES, January 21, 1990:
At the head of the list is Marcia Widenor’s “Home of the Nightwind”, a construction in which translucent sheets of handmade paper are suspended in a wooden framework. This piece, which won the show’s most valuable prize, uses fragile paper and a delicate web of string to suggest a cave or nest from which the mysterious breeze might emanate. Although its reticent, understated elements have a traditional Oriental character, Ms. Widenor’s individuality is clearly expressed in forms that she has adapted to a personal style.
Karin Lipson, “On the Brink of Recognition,” NEWSDAY, February 3, 1989
It was on a visit with her husband to the ancient Japanese city of Kyoto four years ago that Sea Cliff artist Marcia Widenor first encountered the little prayer cards that were to become her latest inspiration. “They were really wood, with designs painted on them, and they had a loop of silk cord,” Widenor recalls. “You would buy one and hang it in front of a shrine.”
When she returned to Long Island, the artist, who works primarily in paper and cloth, found herself drawn to making something akin to those wooden prayer cards. The results are the handmade paper constructions, somehow both delicate and rough hewn, that are the centerpieces of her work at the museum.